Degrading practices, part 9

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 8, posted on 16 Apr 2015).

In part 5 I characterised the recasting of services on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) that will be required subsequent to the opening of HS2 Phase 1 as “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Professor Andrew McNaughton told the Members of the HS2 Select Committee that the aim of the indicative proposals that he was presenting to them was “particularly to pick up the commuter growth areas, which are part of the Government’s central strategy, out at Milton Keynes, Northampton, Rugby and so forth” (see footnote 1). Indeed, boosting commuter services in the London-Milton Keynes-Northampton rail corridor is consistent with one of the “high level principles” identified in The Strategic Case for HS2 (see footnote 2).

Of course, none of the stations that Professor McNaughton mentioned will be served by HS2 trains, so they can only be given more train services if they are cast as Paul in the Peter/Paul equation. So an acid test of how successful HS2 will be as a solution to WCML capacity problems is the extent to which it will boost capacity in these commuter growth areas. In order to get some feel for this, I have constructed another table of data; this one concentrates on the London-Milton Keynes-Northampton rail corridor.

In this table I have listed only stations on the Euston-Rugby section of the WCML that are currently served by London Midland and/or Southern. For each station I have compared the number of trains currently serving it in the 17:00-17:59 peak hour (first column of figures) with the service calling rate envisaged by the indicative service pattern shown in Figure 6-6 and Figure 6-12 of The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report (fourth column of figures). Whether the Southern cross-London link service should be in the count is arguable, since it does not call at Euston, but it does provide a commuter service into north London (Wembley Central) and so I have included its station calls in my totals.

The other service aspect that my table considers is what I have called the “intermediate stops factor”, which gives a measure of the number of intermediate station stops that a traveller from Euston to the named station will encounter before reaching his destination. The number of stops varies from one train path to another, so I have taken a simple average of stops per peak-hour train path – I have excluded the Southern service(s) from this average, as these trains do not call at Euston. I have included this factor because I consider it an indicator of the “quality” of a journey – a trip with more intermediate stops is likely to take longer and be more crowded.

The third column of my table counts stops by long-distance trains, currently operated by Virgin; due to disembarking restrictions these services do not serve commuters to Watford or Milton Keynes. The sixth column shows stops by long-distance trains provided by the indicative post-HS2 Phase 1 service pattern shown in Figure 6-3 of The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report. I have not been able to find any information about whether any service restrictions are likely to apply to these trains.

Taken over all of the stations listed the future indicative service provides an approximately fifty percent increase (from 72 to 106) in the number of peak-hour station stops by WCML commuter trains, which is a welcome improvement. The majority of stations share in this bonanza, although to varying extents, but two stations, Wolverton and Long Buckby, look to be destined for a worse service after HS2 comes into operation – so the Government’s intention to “ensure that all locations with services to London will have services that are broadly comparable, or improved, when HS2 arrives”, to which I referred in part 1, appears to be at risk even in this most-favoured WCML corridor.

The solution for Milton Keynes Central, which I would imagine is the epicentre of commuter growth, appears to have been found in a different way. At this station the number of stops by commuter services has only been increased by one – effectively this is brought about by the doubling of the Southern service from one to two – and additional capacity is proposed by increasing the stops by long-distance trains from three to seven. Presumably, if this increase in services is to have any impact upon commuter overcrowding, then at least some of the seven long-distance services will need to be freed from the current peak-hour restrictions that apply to the current three long-distance services that call at Milton Keynes Central, and which I referred to above.

Intermediate stops factors will, in general, be improved by the indicative post-HS2 proposals, or will, at least, be no worse. However, passengers using three stations, Apsley, Hemel Hempstead and Leighton Buzzard, will find more intermediate stops on their services, with consequent increased journey times, presumably.

In his presentation, Professor McNaughton specifically mentioned Northampton and Rugby as “two other areas where people would like to run more trains” (see footnote 3). Strangely, in view of this, these two stations do not seem to do that well under the proposals that the professor presented; the former gets only one additional calling commuter service, plus a new terminating long-distance service, and the latter is expected to make do with the current number of peak-hour services (four), with only an additional calling long-distance service to add capacity.

(To be continued …)


  1. The relevant section of Professor McNaughton’s evidence to the Select Committee is recorded in paragraphs 174 to 188 in the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11th February 2015. The quote comes from paragraph 179.
  2. The principle “to provide additional commuter capacity where it is most needed” is one that I identified in part 5 of this blog series. The full list of the “high level principles” may be found in paragraph 4.2.6 of the document The Strategic Case for HS2.
  3. See paragraph 184 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11th February 2015.

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.


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